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Utah group strives to keep bad batteries out of landfills

Posted at 8:08 AM, Apr 03, 2023

PARK CITY, Utah — Americans throw away more than 10 million batteries every day, according to Cirba Solutions Recycling Services, and one Utah group is trying to keep batteries out of the landfill.

At the landfill, Ed Larrant, a lab pack chemist for the Salt Lake County Health Department, explained the dangers of lithium batteries when they're tossed out.

Lithium batteries can be found in rechargeable devices such as phones, computers and tablets.

"That lithium and what they're made out of lithium, nickel, cadmium, they all could potentially get into the environment and would be harmful to water for animals," he said.

Once the dangerous chemicals get into the environment, toxic elements could be absorbed into the bodies of animals or humans, impacting the liver and kidneys.

Rechargeable lithium batteries should be taken to the household hazardous waste facility to be recycled, free of charge.

While lithium batteries can be dangerous when thrown away, alkaline batteries can go to the landfill safely in Utah.

"Alkaline batteries can be thrown away in the regular trash," Larrant explained. "It's magnesium in the middle and it just turns in the dirt basically. It's not hazardous."

The decision on how to safely dispose of alkaline batteries depends on which state you're in.

"The federal government list alkaline batteries as nonhazardous," Larrant said. "The state of California, they've chosen to label alkaline batteries as hazardous waste so they don't go into the trash and into the landfill. However, Utah and several other states adhere to the government's definition of nonhazardous or alkaline batteries."

The Salt Lake County Household Hazardous Waste Facility used to recycle alkaline batteries but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the recycling facility went out of business.

Park City-based "Pale Blue" is working toward its goal of reducing single-use batteries and replacing them with lithium-based rechargeable batteries.

So far, the organization has collected 250 pounds of batteries and while that may seem like a drop in the bucket, it represents efforts to change habits.

Thomas Bishop, CEO of Pale Blue says he believes alkaline batteries actually can be dangerous to the environment.

"Certainly no one would say it would be okay at large concentrations, the landfills wouldn't go for that," Bishop said. "But once you've put that many batteries into a landfill, whether in large concentration or not, it seems like a risky scenario for potential leaching and groundwater contamination.

Bishop believes lithium batteries are the future.

"We're in the Lithium Ion Age," he said. "The guys who created it won the Nobel Prize, I think I think for good reason."